The Flight of the Vernacular

Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and the Impress of Dante


In this book, Dante, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott engage in an eloquent and meaningful conversation. Dante’s capacity for being faithful to the collective historical experience and true to the recognitions of the emerging self, the permanent immediacy of his poetry, the healthy state of his language, which is so close to the object that the two are identified, and his adamant refusal to get lost in the wide and open sea of abstraction – all these are shown to have affected, and to continue to affect, Heaney’s and Walcott’s work. The Flight of the Vernacular, however, is not only a record of what Dante means to the two contemporary poets but also a cogent study of Heaney’s and Walcott’s attitude towards language and of their views on the function of poetry in our time. Heaney’s programmatic endeavour to be “adept at dialect” and Walcott’s idiosyncratic redefinition of the vernacular in poetry as tone rather than as dialect – apart from having Dantean overtones – are presented as being associated with the belief that poetry is a social reality and that language is a living alphabet bound to the “opened ground” of the world.

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"…exciting…complex…persuasive…full of new revelations…’it helps us to better comprehend Heaney and Walcott and offers us a richer, more contemporary Dante, a Dante who is alive…" – Valeria Tinkler-Villani, in: Incontri, Anno 20 (2005), pp. 194-199
"…it offers significantly new perspectives…, …important and thoroughly scholarly…, …an invaluable resource…" – Lyn Innes, in: New West Indian Guide, Vol. 78, No. 3-4 (2004), pp.351-353
"…based on sound, indeed impeccable scholarship" – Edward Baugh, in: Research in African Literatures, Vol. 34.1 (Spring 2003), pp. 151-9
"…illuminating, absorbing, engaging[…], [of] inestimable value to the scholar." – John Ennis, in: Agenda, Vol. 39.1-3 (Winter 2002-2003), pp.323-327
"…it is wonderful to see someone with deep knowledge and empathy restoring tous a sense of Dante as contemporary; [it] exposes the practice of much contemporary poetic criticism that tends to be parochial in time… [..] Part of the pleasure of this book is its clarity: close-reading and fine judgements…" – Archie Markham, in: Wasafiri, Vol. 38 (Spring 2003), pp. 69-71
"After reading this book, it is difficult indeed to believe that Heaney’s and Walcott’s dialogue with the medieval poet may have gone unremarked for so long. Fumagalli redresses this imbalance admirably" – Lucia Boldrini, in: New Comparison, Vol. 33-34 (Spring/Autumn 2002), pp.304-305
"…articulate and subtle analysis…" – Piero Boitani, in: La Domenica del Sole 24Ore (20 January 2002), p. 36
1. Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu
‘L’Alto Volo’ and the return to the real
2. Flight and Folly
Or, Dante and the megalomania of the signifier
3. Epitaph for the Young
Walcott’s apprentice years
4. The Style of Her Praise
Dante’s Vita Nuova and Walcott’s Another Life
5. Breaking the Tribe’s Complicity
Heaney’s Field Work
6. Shabine’s alto volo and Ulysses’ folle volo
Walcott’s “The Schooner Flight
7. Out of Avernus: Heaney’s Station Island
8. The Book of Change: Heaney’s The Haw Lantern
9. A Caribbean Epic of the Self: Walcott’s Omeros
10. A Poetry of Paradise. Heaney’s Seeing Things and The Spirit Level and Walcott’s The Bounty
Appendix I
Appendix II
Works Cited
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